Campaign funds taint DA's shooting probe, activists say

BOW OUT: A Latino leader believes the state should investigate a deputy's shooting of an airman.

07:34 AM PST on Wednesday, February 15, 2006

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos should turn over the investigation of a high-profile deputy-involved shooting to the state attorney general, a small group of community activists urged Tuesday.

Because Ramos has accepted more than $37,000 in campaign donations from the sheriff's union, he cannot fairly oversee the inquiry into whether Deputy Ivory J. Webb was justified in shooting and wounding Elio Carrion after a short high-speed chase in Chino last month, the activists said.

"It has to be given to the attorney general," said Steven Figueroa, of the Mexican American Political Association. "Anything short of that is a conflict of interest."

Figueroa and about a half dozen others walked Tuesday from the County Government Center to Ramos' office in downtown San Bernardino to give him a letter urging him to withdraw from the case.

Figueroa was unable to meet with Ramos but spoke with Susan Mickey, the district attorney's office spokeswoman.

Mickey said she would give the letter to Ramos and thanked Figueroa for stopping by. She said she doubted the case would be turned over to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

She said the county district attorney's office is doing a fair and thorough inquiry into whether to file criminal charges against Webb, who remains on administrative leave.

A Lockyer spokesman could not be reached for comment.

On Jan. 29, Webb wounded Carrion, a U.S. Air Force senior airman working in security. Chino resident Jose Luis Valdes videotaped the event and it has since been broadcast nationally.

The video shows Webb shooting Carrion three times after Carrion appeared to follow the deputy's orders to get up off the ground.

Sheriff Gary Penrod on Friday turned the department's investigation over to the district attorney's office. He said the video "looks terrible" but stopped short of passing judgment on Webb.

The FBI is conducting a separate civil-rights investigation.

In his letter to Ramos, Figueroa said county leaders should "not attempt to sweep the issues under the dirty carpet."

Robert Gaines Sr., chairman of the California Black Chamber of Commerce, joined in urging Ramos to send the case to Sacramento. County leaders should be responsive to people when "we see injustice," he said.

Ramos has accepted more than $50,000 from peace officer unions since his first campaign in 2002, the majority from the San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefit Association. That union, representing sheriff's deputies, donated more than $37,000 to Ramos, campaign finance records show.

William Abernathie, the union's president, said Tuesday the association doesn't expect preferential treatment in return for donations.

He said there is no reason to turn over the probe to the state and asked how the attorney general would fairly investigate while accepting campaign donations from peace officer unions.

Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said taking campaign cash from the union represents a potential conflict of interest.

"But that means any case involving the sheriff is a conflict," Stern said. "I don't think you could make an argument he should do it unless he feels compromised."

Former San Bernardino County District Attorney Dennis Stout said the office is compromised by taking so much money from the sheriff's union.

Stout acknowledged that he, too, accepted campaign contributions from the sheriff's union as district attorney, but not to the extent Ramos does.

Allowing an outside office to conduct investigations would help avoid an appearance of impropriety, Stout said last week, before community activists urged Ramos to turn the case over to the state.

"Let's face it," Stout said. "San Bernardino County doesn't have a reputation of honesty and integrity."

Staff writer Ben Goad contributed to this report.

Reach Duane W. Gang at (909) 806-3062 or dgang@PE.com